27 – Why Mechanics Should Not Perform Heart Surgery

02 Jul

Okay…so Tom, a reader of mine, posted the following comments (he’s always finding/asking the good stuff):

There’s an interesting discussion on Hard Times at an education blog here. Teachers who have actually been in an urban classroom were not impressed with the bloggers National Review article. (I responded to this one first)

The ed. blogger makes a poor argument which needs to be ‘unpacked’ as he so condescendingly and wonkishly put it. (I responded to this one second)

The “wonkishness” that Tom refers to is an education blogger/researcher (probably twelve years old) who writes for the National Review Online. This blogger has taken his pre-pubescent thoughts concerning Hard Times at Douglass High, and created a dismissive, snobbish, condescending, and judgmental evaluation of the teachers/administration at Douglass High. Needless to say, our Little Blogger Boy did NOT receive a warm reception from any of the commenting educators or people with the ability to think rationally (myself included).

Liam Julian, bless his heart (A Southern phrase I learned from my aunts which really translates into: What a horse’s ass), feels that the teacher’s at Douglass High just “weren’t cutting it” (Yes, I am quoting Julian). Julian goes on to lambast the lesson plan of Mr.McDermott, the 9th Grade English teacher (whom of which posts a direct response to Our Little Blogger Boy)…claiming that his writing topic was inappropriate (paraphrase). Please feast on a few more written gems from Our Little Blogger Boy taken directly from his article Liam Julian on Hard Times at Douglass High on National Review Online:

Yet this film makes clear that kindness and devotion do not great teachers and administrators make, and despite their intentions, the staff members at Douglass aren’t cutting it.”

“But some of Douglass’s staff members actually heighten the discord of their pupils’ already discordant lives. The film shows an English teacher who asks his class about people they know who have screwed up or failed. Thus, instead of having a valuable conversation about Nick Carraway’s flaws, say, or the mistakes of old men who fish for marlin, the students tell stories about relatives who are pregnant, in prison, or dead.”

Hard Times at Douglass High shows that troubled urban schools can succeed only if they’re staffed by competent people. In urban education, good intentions alone will not yield good results.”

If this is who we have to count on to forge the way for educational research, then we REALLY ARE in trouble!

***UPDATE:  This is for my disgruntled Wednesday (wdnsday) commenter! 🙂  This is my posted response to Liam Julian (click the first link to see full information).

Mr. Julian,

“Hard Times at Douglass High shows that troubled urban schools can succeed only if they’re staffed by competent people. In urban education, good intentions alone will not yield good results.”

There is nothing more unnerving than the mechanic who attempts to perform heart-surgery. As a seventh-year teacher in the public school system, I must say that I find your irreverence for the scope of my profession quite offensive. This is not a game, Mr. Julian! American education is in trouble; suburban and urban. NCLB has been fuel to the fire because our POLICY MAKERS are not educators! For you to condense the culpability of this massive issue down to one minuscule group of people shows your lack of preparedness. You should not have written your article without further research…you deserve to be torn a fresh asshole due to your pompous oversight.

There is a recipe that one should follow when engaging in the proper education of a child: parents, community, school, and policy makers. Please notice that I listed four components…four…like the number of tires it takes to support a car. It’s a machine. What would happen to your journey if one or more of those components were faulty?

I viewed that documentary, and I saw a lot more than good intentions in the works. There were plenty of competent educators who were featured on Hard Times. As an individual who has never taught, I find it rather presumptuous of you to evaluate something you know nothing of. Please keep in mind that we need solutions in order to fix this mess…people who are able to view the “big picture,” and that picture boils down to this…policy, policy, and MORE policy; after policy…parents, parents, and MORE parents; after parents…environment…THEN, maybe THEN are we able to look at what I am able to offer in the classroom.

Ms. Friendly


Posted by on July 2, 2008 in Work


Tags: , , , , , ,

14 responses to “27 – Why Mechanics Should Not Perform Heart Surgery

  1. saneandsingle

    July 2, 2008 at 5:16 am

    I tried to read his blog. I really did! But it hurt, hurt oh so badly! You were much kinder than I would have been in your comment to him.

  2. saneandsingle

    July 2, 2008 at 5:18 am

    BTW…his writing wreaked of arrogance. I would hate to see what may be left of him if he spent a day in an inner city English class room, spouting off that shit that I, a grown and educated woman, fell asleep reading!

  3. wdnsday

    July 2, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    While I don’t agree with Liam on many, many points (including this one), I would like to defend him here. Not his arguments but him, the person. You see, the fact that he needs to be defender as a human being and not as an arguer is a comment on you and not on him. Have you ever heard of an ad hominem attack? I sure hope so. Since I’m assuming you know what it is, I’ll also assume you know you are guilty (oh so very guilty) of using it against Liam. What I would like to see, more than anything, is someone rip apart his argument (operative word: argument). I read your comment on his post and it fell well short of the mark. So, yes, Liam’s post was arrogant and condescending. That, tragically, doesn’t invalidate what he’s saying. A well-reasoned argument could. Why don’t you give that a try instead of the petty, bitter, reactive comments you’ve given us instead?

    P.S. saneandsingle – you’re an educated woman? Good for you, but next time, it’s “reeked.”

  4. msfriendly

    July 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    wdnsday- Did you read the links I posted where I REPLIED to Liam with my ARGUMENT? Before firing your gun make sure it’s been fully loaded, grasshopper.

    Also, “the fact that he needs to be DEFENDER” (I think you meant DEFENDED…(lol)…glass houses, right?) is his own fault! Liam attacks others. He attacks the souls of my colleagues under the guise of “research.” He is above any reason that complaining educators may offer, in his mind…I have read his other posts.

    Also, remember…the TITLE of this blog is Ms. Friendly’s Comprehensive Guide to Inner City Teaching. I am Ms. Friendly. This is my blog. I will post WHAT I want and HOW I want. If you don’t like it, then you are more than free to never return.

    My interests lie in discussing solutions…not misguided twelve year olds (DOH! Ad hominem! OMG! I did it again!). Education is my life – FOR REAL!

    So, having said that…go back and READ what I’ve already written before commenting on something I SUPPOSEDLY didn’t do!

    Thanks for stopping by 😉

  5. saneandsingle

    July 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Wdnsday (where’d the missing vowels go?), Oh please do forgive me for typing the incorrect homophone! Educated women do make mistakes too! I’m sure you’ve made similar mistakes while typing. Does this quote look familiar, “…he needs to be defender as a human being…”? That makes no sense as typed. And had you not questioned my education, I would have just assumed you meant “defended”. Never would I have tried to insinuate that you LACKED education.

    Picking out one little typo does not discount my education! The last time I checked educated people were HUMAN. NO human is perfect, including the educated and yourself!

    Ms. Friendly, I will assume that your educated readers know the definition of homophone. If not, there is always Google.

  6. wdnsday

    July 2, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    I appreciate you re-posting your comments and calling me out on my typo. I don’t, however, appreciate the gun analogy (for a reason that you couldn’t possibly have gathered purely from reading my comment, so there’s no umbrage being taken). I’m glad someone can take me to task and pick apart Liam’s arguments in one breath. I’d still like to see more logic and less ad hominem, but alas, it’s a human tendency to dislike an argument more for its delivery than for its merit.

    And, saneandsingle, I know what a homophone is. I also know the importance of double checking when I use one. (Though, admittedly, not the importance of double checking for typos). I think it’s funny that you separate me from “the educated” in your most recent comment. I never made any claim about my level of education because I am not threatened by people who post condescendingly because of their own insecurities (that was a jab at Liam, not at you) and because I don’t think my level of education is particularly relevant to my point of view here.

  7. tom

    July 2, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Nicely done MsFriendly. I’ve made my final point over at the Fordham blog: basically Liam Julian slandered some people – and got called on it. And he did so from a very vulnerable position of having very little experience. His flighty pseudo-dandy-esque prose style doesn’t match the reality that he was slandering actual people and by extension urban teachers generally.

  8. msfriendly

    July 2, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    wdnsday – I guess I’m just that ad hominem type of gal sometimes 😉

    But MORE importantly than any of this other nonsense we have discussed…what are YOUR views? I want to make this VERY clear! THIS blog was not constructed for the purposes of Blogger Battles (like back in the day when MCs used to battle…lol). I am most interested in hearing from educators, parents, and community members…ANYONE who thinks they may have an idea to contribute that will place us one step further away from the shit we’ve stepped in.

    In a prior comment, you alluded to the fact that you disagree with Liam Julian’s views. What are your views?…Because that’s what I’m MOST interested in.

  9. wdnsday

    July 3, 2008 at 12:54 am

    I happen to believe that Liam’s arguments are almost completely irrelevant to the issue. As the daughter of a teacher and the product of many, I have to disagree first that they’re overly sensitive and second that they’re wrong in the cases where they are perhaps a bit touchy. I also have two friends who are TFA alums/teachers (the Bronx and Denver) and have seen what inner city schools can do to even the most intelligent and motivated teachers.

    I believe that teachers (and, indeed, most other positions for which you must have specific qualifications and training) are perfectly within their rights to say, “because you’ve never taught.” Policy wonks (like myself, unfortunately) can sit in offices and look at study after study but we can never come up with perfect policy because we’ve never stood in a classroom in an urban area (or any other) and attempted to teach a group of students from backgrounds that we can barely understand, let alone empathize with. Teachers have every right to look down their noses at the policies Washington (and the state capitals) propose. Big business does it (through lobbies and open disdain for things like taxes), lawyers do it (though, admittedly, they are best positioned to do so) – my point is that the other professions for which people take specific coursework and participate in tailored training programs do the same thing and no one gets pissed at them. Perhaps it’s because people have much more contact with teachers than with other groups. But that doesn’t explain doctors (another subset of that professionally trained group) and why they’re allowed to be as snobbish as they wish about *their* profession.

    Last (since I feel like this may be getting slightly long), teachers really deserve a break and wonks don’t seem to be willing to give it to them. We expect teachers to control behavior, impart knowledge, stimulate creativity, keep up with their training, improve test scores, plan lessons, evaluate curriculum, manage parents, cater to administrators and remain sane. That’s too much to demand from a group of people who are vastly underappreciated and underpaid in today’s society. Until the day when teaching is a position that is well paid and protected from abuse, teachers get a free pass on sensitivity. I think teachers deserve better from policy wonks, from parents, from unions, from administrators, and (often) from students. There are a very few jobs that I think are absolutely necessary for a society to function well and in the best interest of its members, teaching happens to be one of them.

  10. saneandsingle

    July 3, 2008 at 2:20 am

    Bravo wdnsday! I complete agree with you! But then again, I am an inner-city high school teacher! 😉 (Even though, I still don’t take the time to double check my homophones, especially during the summer! Heehee)

    Teachers will be sensitive, because in most cases, teaching is something close to the heart. Those kids become our family. So when we are criticized from someone who “has never been there”, we will get upset. Ask any parent who has been criticized for his/her parenting skills by someone who has never raised children.

    Often, policies work on paper, but not in reality. This is where the breakdown begins. I will tell you, as someone who has witnessed it, that often the reports that come back from schools on what “works” in class rooms are skewed, forged, and fabricated. Often, we are told to “give them what they want” and “tell them what they want to hear”, and keep doing what you are doing in your class.

  11. wdnsday

    July 3, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I think you’re exactly right with the parent analogy. I also happen to think parents are right when they scoff at non-parents who give them child rearing advice. If you’ve never had children, you have no business telling a parent how they should or should not be behaving.

    I just thought of a way to explain how I feel about policy wonks and why, seeing as how I am one, they should be allowed to continue existing (though hopefully in a much less loud and colorful manner than our friend Liam). They’re much like psychologists – we can look at studies and listen to problems and evaluate situations all day long, but there will never, EVER be a way for our policies to be 100% applicable or 100% likeable. Teachers have one of the hardest jobs on the planet and each school, each classroom, each student is different. We can look at “best practices” and numbers for the big picture and maybe even make suggestions based on those (for instance, suggestions to House committees and state-level politicians). Those recommendations, however, should never be considered the absolute authority on the matter. It goes back to your on paper vs. in practice argument. That holds true for quite a lot, not just psychology and education but philosophy, government, ethics, etc…

    I also like the another analogy made in comments on Liam’s second “martyrdom” post equating teachers using their experience as a reason to disregard others with military using their experience in the same manner. How come we all just take for granted that the military is doing their job right but we want to tell teachers that they’re doing theirs wrong (constantly).

  12. wdnsday

    July 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    “the another” = it’s almost the long weekend

  13. Alfie

    July 5, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Somewhat related somewhat not….
    I’m curious if the teachers would answer some questions.
    Isn’t it true that there are many willing and able persons in the private sector who are willing to share their knowledge with students but are blocked by unions and bureaucracies ?
    What is a “good” salary for an educator ? (for simplification let’s say a HS teacher) Should teachers be viewed as individuals as opposed to parts of a whole ?

  14. Peter

    July 8, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    @ Alfie

    All organizations are more efficiently and more effectively run when they are private — as to who in the private sector is willing to teach, I couldn’t answer. Private schools pay their teachers far less than public schools, but private school teachers also have more administrative support, less disciplinary problems and more curriculum control. But how do you turn a bureaucratic behemoth like Public Education into a private industry? I don’t know, but I would like to see it happen.

    What teacher unions “block” is the ability to weed out bad teachers, and for individual teachers to be compensated equally to their performance. Teachers should definitely be viewed as individuals in-so-far as pay is concerned — that is, every contract should be negotiated individually and yearly. Not in one undifferentiated block as the unions do it. However, teachers should be considered as parts of a whole in-so-far as broad lesson plans and curriculum are concerned.

    What is a good salary for teachers? A good salary is whatever will keep good teachers in the job, and there should never be a cap to what they can make. I was evaluated as a distinguished teacher three years in a row and had dozens of parents and students thank me for teaching each semester. I made $35,500 and was looking at about a thousand dollar a year raise for the next ten years.

    That was not enough to keep me in the job. I am going to law school.

    I don’t think any industry has an attrition rate like public education, and it is financially costly. They would probably save money by increasing salary.


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